Bizarre Fiction on the Right-to-Life Issues

A second prophecy is that twenty-first century fiction will continue to be devoid of ethical values, either by making no overt reference to values outside the world of fiction or by having characters who do not argue the ethical merits of the right-to-life issues at all. All of the novels discussed here do not address the ethical foundations of the right-to-life issues. No fictional character cares about how Judaism's view on abortion differs from Roman Catholic Christianity's, just as no character cares that there are some in the culture who advocate that handicapped newborns should not have their right to life legally recognized. In fact, what is noteworthy is the attack against religion in the abortion novel. Acker's characters are similar to standard American bigots who, if they cannot attack the beliefs of Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians, do the next best thing and attack the religious people themselves.

I predict that the ad hominem attacks will become worse. If Catholics can tolerate being victims -- even if only in fiction, which really doesn't mean anything, anyway (right?) -- then fundamentalist Christians can be picked on next. Maybe even Orthodox Jews after them; maybe even.... The list of future targets of abuse in fiction can expand as long as one group suffers silently.

Third, the works discussed herein do not allow for good old-fashioned catharsis. Don Quixote ends in a limbo regarding her spiritual welfare. Though Quinndell is killed at novel's end, the lives of the handicapped newborns are not properly mourned because they were, after all, "defective" anyway. Vernon is killed by his best friend and unfortunately will have his reputation tainted as one who was involved in a double murder -- a euthanasia murder at that, in the Netherlands of all places, the euthanasia capital of the world.

What are the emotional benefits to be derived from such fiction? Why should I read novels which make me depressed about the life-denying state of society? What do I get out of reading about a post-abortion mother who is delusional, or reading about babies falling into a chasm, or reading about a paranoid man who would take the slightest symptom of being human and convert it into a justification to end his own life? What satisfaction possibly accrues from reading novels with these plots?

Perhaps this is the ultimate rhetorical point of such life-denying fiction. The meaning of Horace's famous dictum "aut prodesse aut delectare" is often obscured by the Latinized correlative conjunctions. Literature has two purposes: to teach and to delight. Perhaps these novels can entertain me in some way, but, more importantly, they can teach me something about the value of human life. Perhaps I can use these novels as a barometer against which the social pressure for killing various other classes of human beings can be measured. Perhaps their warped views of human life can challenge me to be a prophet to this twenty-first century, to warn the world. Perhaps, finally, what these novels can teach is that I should do my best to see that real life never becomes so bizarre.

Works Cited


1. Of course, Catholics are not the only ones who suffer at the hands of anti-life lesbians in Acker's novel. Fundamentalist Christians are persecuted primarily because of their stance on abortion. The characters mix religious faith with racism freely, as when Don Quixote says that such fundamentalist Christians are "Born-Agains who were murdering women who tried to get abortions in the United States" (177; capitalization in original). [Back]

2. See, for example, Baker's online essay "The Sword Was Not with the Goddess: a Spiritual Midwife Addresses the Need to Heal Abortion". Baker asserts:

I have had pagans and yogis alike tell me that motherhood archetypically contains both the loving as well as the rejecting mother and to be "whole" we need to express both. Abortion seen in that light is but an extension of the natural "weaning mother." This argument is absurd.... The source of confusion is calling killing "weaning" or a "natural process" -- dying is a natural process, killing other humans is not part of a natural religious path.


3. The circumstances of the abortion in Acker's novel are clearly pagan and devoid of any traditional Judaeo-Christian ethics. Another mother who will abort, described as "Irish", prays to the Moon. This is significant if only because the adjective "Irish" resonates with the religion most vociferously identified with the pro-life position, Roman Catholicism. Moreover, perhaps this is Acker's way of helping the reader understand that the mothers who are aborting are pagan. Just as Paris promotes worship of Artemis, Acker is indicating here that the Irish mother has abandoned her traditional religious roots and has gone over not necessarily to Goddess, but to Artemis worship (the moon is, after all, symbolic of Artemis, or, in the ancient Roman deity, Diana). [Back]

4. For some reason, although the characters are vicious towards the Catholic Church, Prince is described as "a good Catholic" (22). [Back]

5. This is in opposition to Paris' thinking that the goddess Artemis can help people understand "a new allocation of life and death powers" (27) and that abortion is merely "another way of choosing death over life" (51; italics in original). [Back]

6. In fact, several characters demonstrate various degrees of devotion to Catholicism. Claire Cept, the woman who first directs the protagonist, John Lyon, to the infanticides, is an African-American Catholic. Her granddaughter of the same name will assist the protagonist in solving the crimes. This granddaughter, who had an abortion and thinks she cannot have normal relationships with men, in one episode moans before a statue of the Virgin Mary from which the Jesus figure has been chipped away. As she prays before the statue, Claire says "I'm sorry" (200-2). At novel's end, however, Lyon is happily married with Claire, and they have children. [Back]

7. Helping readers discover this hyperbole may be a task for the academy. One of the benefits of presenting papers at University Faculty for Life conferences is that we academics can learn suitable terminology to best express trends in literature and other sciences which may help not only us as we read difficult or politically-challenging texts but also our students as they struggle to negotiate the value of a text on a first reading. Thus, besides calling this passage an exercise in hyperbole or misplaced epideictic of praise, I can also label it as an instance of "disordered sentiment" which Dr. Frank Zapatka identified as a central concern of Walker Percy, that great twentieth-century writer whose works are more prophetic than they are humorous or philosophical. Dr. Zapatka summarized Percy's impressions that the Germans were the "nicest" people in the 1930s -- the same decade when they attacked the civil rights of Jews and when they began thinking of the killing efforts which would occur in the next decade. Similarly, Percy chastised Americans for being so generous and, well, golly, just the "nicest" people around -- this, even while they have abortion legal throughout the nine months of pregnancy, and while their respect for the handicapped and the elderly is comparable to Quinndell's and Clive's. The superlative form of the adjective used to describe both the Nazi German of the 1930s and 1940s and the American of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century is, as Zapatka identified in his paper presentation, striking. [Back]

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